The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 (CLA) granted reparations to U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents of Japanese ancestry who were interned during World War II and alive when the legislation was enacted. However, due to eligibility restrictions, thousands of persons of Japanese, German, Italian, and Jewish ancestry – both citizens and immigrant residents of the U.S. and those seized from Latin America – were denied redress, including the Japanese Latin American internees (JLAs). In 2020, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) announced its groundbreaking ruling that the U.S. government owes reparations to JLAs, but to this day no action has been taken.


OUR NEXT STEPS

  1. Meet with the Biden Administration to discuss securing redress for the JLAs.
  2. Work with the U.S. Congress to develop legislation for JLA reparations.
  3. Mobilize for education and redress action.
  4. Build solidarity among our communities – locally, nationally, and internationally – by making connections in our histories and justice struggles.

Please join us in urging the Biden Administration to honor the rule of international law and grant proper reparations for WWII human rights violations perpetrated against the JLAs.


HOW YOU CAN HELP

  1. Share the news about our redress efforts and why our milestone victory is groundbreaking and relevant to other reparations struggles.
  2. Sign and share our petition to the Biden Administration to secure meaningful redress and reparations. Link to the CFJ Petition on Change.org
  3. Volunteer with the Campaign for Justice or the Japanese Peruvian Oral History Project. 
  4. Donate to advance our educational and redress efforts.
  5. Stay in touch by following our CFJ website, Facebook page and Instagram.

You can make a difference! Thank you!


REFERENCE VIDEOS

The documentary Hidden Internment: The Art Shibayama Story, 2004, 26 minutes, courtesy of Peek Media: Link to the video


Hearing at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, March 21, 2017, video courtesy of the IACHR (with an introduction in Spanish and the remainder in English): Link to the video


Press Conference announcing victory at the IACHR, August 5, 2020 (program begins at 3:23): Link to the video


ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Presidential Day Of Remembrance Proclamation, 02/18/2022
For the first time ever, a President has acknowledged JLAs in a Day of Remembrance proclamation. Acknowledgement is the first step toward redressing a wrong.

“Phase 2 of Redress Has Begun” by Phil Tajitsu Nash, Rafu Shimpo, 02/12/2022

“America’s Forgotten Internment” by Jesús A. Rodríguez, Politico Magazine, 12/05/2021

AALDEF Letter of Support, 02/10/2022

IACHR Published Decision in the Shibayama case, 04/27/2020

CFJ Press Advisory Announcing IACHR Ruling, 08/05/2020

More resources


VICTORY AT THE IACHR

Campaign for Justice and Japanese Peruvian Oral History Project are thrilled to announce the groundbreaking ruling of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Many thanks to all who helped with this milestone victory.

THE BACKGROUND

The Shibayama family owned thriving businesses and were enjoying a prosperous, peaceful lifestyle in Lima, Peru.  Their lives changed drastically during WWII when the family was kidnapped in Lima by the U.S. government, transported forcibly across international waters and imprisoned at Crystal City Internment Camp in Texas from March 1944 to September 1946.  They lost everything — their home, businesses, property, community and country.

The Shibayamas, along with more than 2,200 other Latin Americans of Japanese descent, were seized for the purpose of hostage exchange with Japan.  The Shibayama children, who were born in Peru, ranged in age from 5 to 13 years old.  Their beloved grandparents were used by the U.S. government in a hostage exchange and sent to war-devastated Japan, and the family never saw them again.

After the war ended, the Shibayamas were classified as “illegal aliens” and forced to fight deportation from the U.S. when Peru would not allow their return.


THE CASE

Not finding justice for the war crimes and crimes of humanity committed against them in the U.S. courts nor Congress, Isamu Carlos “Art,” Kenichi Javier and Takeshi Jorge Shibayama took their case to the international arena.

In June 2003, the Shibayama brothers and the Japanese Peruvian Oral History Project filed the Shibayama, et al. v. USA petition, Case No. 12.545, with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) seeking equitable redress for ongoing violations of their rights by the U.S. government under several articles of the American Convention on the Rights and Duties of Man.

Thirteen years after the initial filing, an expedited hearing was requested due to the Shibayama brothers’ age and failing health.  A public hearing was granted in January 2017 and scheduled for March 2017.


THE HEARING

On March 21, 2017, the public hearing before the IACHR was held at the Organization of American States (OAS) headquarters in Washington, D.C. No attorneys from the U.S. government appeared at the hearing nor other IACHR hearings on March 21st, which raised concerns from the ACLU and other civil and human rights organizations regarding the United States’ commitment to human rights leadership in the Americas.

Read more on the IACHR hearing.


THE FAVORABLE RULING

The large body of evidence that supported the Shibayama claims was irrefutable, leading the IACHR decision to read:

“The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights concludes that the [USA] is responsible for the violation of Articles II (equality before the law) and XVIII (fair trial and effective remedy) of the American Declaration [of the Rights and Duties of Man]…And reiterates its recommendations to the USA to:

(1) provide integral reparation for the human rights violations…including both the material and moral dimensions, and adopt measures for economic compensation and measures of satisfaction…[and]

(2) ensure full disclosure of government information relating to the program of deportation and internment of JLAs during WWII, as well as relating to the fates of the individuals subject to this program.”

Links to additional information on the IACHR ruling:

IACHR Published Report
Press Advisory Announcing Ruling


FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Q. What happened to the JLAs during World War II?

From December 1941 to February 1948, the U.S. government orchestrated and financed the mass abduction, forcible deportation and internment of 2,264 men, women, and children of Japanese ancestry from 13 Latin American countries. Stripped of their passports en route to the United States, these Japanese Latin Americans (JLAs) were declared “illegal aliens” upon arrival in the U.S.

The U.S. planned to use them as hostages in exchange for Americans held by Japan during World War II. Over 800 JLAs were included in two prisoner of war exchanges between the U.S. and Japan. The remaining JLAs were imprisoned without due process of law in U.S. Department of Justice internment camps until after the end of the war.

The wartime treatment of JLAs was part of a larger “enemy alien” program which also targeted people of German and Italian descent in the U.S. and from Latin America. Over 31,000 of these enemy aliens were apprehended, thousands were put into internment camps, and over 4800 (including U.S. citizens who were the minor children of resident aliens) were forcibly deported in civilian prisoner exchanges. The net effect of these programs was to leave JLAs in an indeterminate status so that they could be deprived of individual due process rights, separated from their families,  and kept in inhumane living conditions behind barbed wire. 

Q: What countries were involved in the hostage exchange program?

A: The United States and 13 Latin American countries

The United States government initiated and orchestrated the exchange program, assuming
all expenses and responsibility. The Department of State was responsible for the
deportations from Latin American countries and the exchanges with Japan. The Department
of Justice was responsible for interning Japanese Latin Americans in the United States.

13 Latin American countries cooperated with the exchange program by apprehending,
detaining and deporting citizens and permanent residents of Japanese ancestry: Bolivia,
Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti,
Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and Peru.

Q: How many Japanese Latin Americans were apprehended, deported to and interned in the United States?

A: 2264 Japanese Latin Americans + 68 babies born during internment

2264 men, women and children of Japanese ancestry, citizens and permanent residents of 13 Latin American countries were apprehended, deported to and interned in the U.S.

At least 331 men were also interned at the U.S. military base in Panama. Some were forced to perform hard labor before being sent to internment camps in the U.S.

68 babies were born in Crystal City Internment Camp, Texas between 1942 and 1947.

7 persons died while in custody between 12/41 and 2/27/48 (when Crystal City Internment Camp officially closed).

Q. How many Japanese Latin Americans were exchanged during WWII?

A. Approximately 865 Japanese Latin Americans were exchanged.

There were two exchanges involving 2405 persons of Japanese ancestry from the US and Latin America and 18 persons of Thai ancestry.  Of these, at least 865 were Japanese nationals who were permanent residents of Latin American countries as well as Latin American citizens of Japanese ancestry. The first exchange ship left New York on 6/18/42 with 128 Japanese Latin American internees and picked up additional persons in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The second exchange ship left New York in 9/43 with 737 Japanese Latin American internees.

Q. What happened to the Japanese Latin Americans who were still interned at the end of WWII?

112 Japanese Bolivians, Costa Ricans and Ecuadorans are assumed to have been deported to Japan at the end of WWII.

945+ Japanese Peruvians were deported to Japan at the end of WWII.

365 Japanese Peruvians remained in the US to fight for the suspension of deportation, with hopes of returning to their homes in Peru. Of these, about 300 Japanese Peruvians were able to resolve their “illegal alien” status in the 1950s and eventually become US permanent residents or naturalized citizens.

Eventually, about 100 Japanese Peruvians were able to return to Peru.

Q. What is the history of the JLA campaign for justice? 

This is almost an 80-year struggle for justice with the fight beginning in the concentration camps as JLAs asserted their rights and sought protection under the Geneva Convention as civilians during wartime.

JLA’s began to support and mobilize for redress as part of the Japanese American redress movement.  Over 40 years ago, JLA elders raised the demand for JLA redress as they struggled for participation in the CWRIC hearings.  In 1981, seven JLAs were allowed to testify at hearings in three cities.  When the CWRIC report was published the following year, the JLA wartime experience was included but relegated to the appendix. 

The U.S. Justice Department deemed that JLAs were ineligible for redress under the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 because they were not U.S. citizens nor legal permanent residents at the time of their incarceration. The U.S. government has relied on the fabricated classification of “illegal alien” as justification to restrict redress eligibility and to deny the right to redress.

Therefore, between 1996 and 1999, five lawsuits were filed on behalf of the former JLA internees. The Mochizuki, et al. v. USA case resulted in a settlement whereby the U.S. government agreed to issue individual apology letters and compensation of $5,000 per internee who was alive when the CLA of 1988 for Japanese Americans was enacted. While the settlement agreement terminated further litigation, there was no prohibition against pursuit of legislative remedy by the U.S. Congress for equitable redress. The other four lawsuits were dismissed by the U.S. courts on technical grounds.

For the JLA internees who rejected the Mochizuki settlement and were unable to secure justice in the U.S. courts, they continued the struggle in the international arena. In June 2003, a petition on behalf of the JLAs was filed with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, a body of the Organization of American States) to hold the U.S. government accountable for the ongoing failure to provide redress for war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is this case (Shibayama versus United States) that has yielded a groundbreaking victory for the JLAs.

On the legislative front, two redress bills were proposed but both died in committee in the early 2000s. One bill sought comprehensive redress for all persons of Japanese ancestry excluded from the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, including the JLAs. The second bill would have established a study commission to address the JLA wartime violations and redress recommendations.

Until the crime is over – meaning that it has been fully acknowledged and fully compensated – it is ongoing.” – Karen Parker, Esq., lead attorney, Shibayama vs United States